Growing public alarm about plastic pollution has provoked a war on packaging. What began as a simple concern for the environment has matured into widespread apprehension. Younger generations realise they will have to pick up the pieces of our obsession with single-use plastics.

Millennials and Generation Z are the most environmentally and socially ‘aware’ consumer markets. Generation Z will be the biggest spending group by 2020, and the war on packaging has become as much of a marketing campaign for companies as a sustainability initiative. A 2015 global survey by Nielsen found that 66% of respondents were willing to pay more for sustainable goods. This figure rose to a whopping 73% of millennials, with Generation Z expected to be higher still. And it’s not just their consumer habits; millennials and Gen Z want to work for companies that are taking sustainability seriously too.

Single-use packaging is great; it keeps our food fresh, it’s cheap, you don’t have to clean it and can just throw it away, then it magically disappears right? Wrong. Not enough plastic is recycled, not even close. Just around 30% of plastic is collected for recycling in the EU. It’s now in our oceans, it’s killing our wildlife, it’s even been reported people could be ingesting scores of tiny bits of potentially toxic polymers without realising. But this is old news, right?

The focus is now, rightly, shifting to solutions. And, of course, cutting out the use of ‘pointless packaging’. If only bananas, oranges and avocados came with some natural outer inedible packaging that meant you didn’t need to wrap them in anything…

Whether it’s recyclable plastics, soluble or even edible packaging, we believe there is massive opportunity for innovation in this sector.

But it’s important that the whole product lifecycle is considered. Using alternatives in place of plastic doesn’t necessarily guarantee a positive environmental benefit. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that an increase in paper-based packaging will see a rise in demand for timber and simply harm the environment in a different way. Crucially, companies are finding innovative ways to reduce the environmental impact of their packaging.

Just Eat is running a trial of using sachets made from seaweed for sauces, which will apparently decompose in just 6 weeks

Mondi has created a water soluble film with a range of uses (for dishwasher / laundry tabs etc) which is biodegradable and non-toxic

Mohawk is one of the largest recyclers of PET bottles in the US, recycling over 5.5 billion bottles every year to make its EverStrand carpet

Avery Dennison CleanFlake labelling solution improves the yield in the PET recycling process. Millions of bottles go unrecycled every year due to the contamination of non-recyclable labels, a problem CleanFlake can address

Kingspan use 250 million recycled plastic bottles annually in the production of building fabrics and aim to double that number by 2023. The plan is for a large proportion of these bottles to be ‘ocean-harvested’, which would help to address the scourge of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

Recycling PET (Land & Ocean)

Source: Kingspan

About the author

Euan Ker is a sustainable investment analyst. He is responsible for analysing and monitoring environmental, social and governance factors within the Global Sustainable Equity Strategy. Euan joined us in 2014 as an investment implementation analyst with responsibility for implementing macro investment decisions across a number of fund-of-fund mandates, totaling some £13 billion under management. Prior to moving to the ESG Research team in 2018 his responsibilities also included asset class, regional and currency hedging overlays through derivatives. Euan has a 1st Class Honours degree in Management with Economics from Robert Gordon University. He has the IMC professional qualification and has 4 years’ industry experience.*

*As at 30 June 2018.

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